For many couples, the creation of mutual agreements can be a useful and healthy way to resolve some or all of the issues outstanding in a divorce. However, even the most well thought out settlement agreements can be undone, in whole or in part, by the intrusion of unexpected life-changing events. When that happens, one spouse may need to ask the court for an order modifying an obligation like alimony, and to make that modification retroactive. To ensure a truly equitable outcome, it is important to get that date of retroactivity right. To make sure your alimony outcome is a just one, you should be sure you have a skilled South Florida family law attorney on your side.
One couple facing this issue of retroactive modification of alimony was J.N. and C.N. The Palm Beach County couple worked out a marital settlement agreement that, among other things, said that the husband would pay the wife alimony of $2,750 per month in years one and two, and then gradually decline to $1,000 per month in year eight.
Two months after the spouses reached this agreement, in January 2016, the husband encountered an allegedly unexpected surprise: he lost his job. He went back to court and asked the judge reduce the amount of his alimony based upon this change. At that time, the court had not entered a final order of dissolution, which was not entered until nine months later. A month after the judge entered the order, in November 2016, the husband filed an amended motion, again asking for a reduction in alimony.
When you’re asking a judge to reduce an obligation like alimony under a scenario like this husband’s, you have to show the court several things. You have to establish that you underwent a substantial change in circumstances that alters your ability to pay, and you have to prove that the change was something that you did not anticipate at the time that you signed the marital settlement agreement. This judge decided that the husband’s proof was sufficient to demonstrate a material change in circumstances and that the change was one that was unforeseen at the time of the creation of the settlement agreement.
The judge, however, made the reduction in alimony retroactive to the date of the amended motion for modification, which was November 2016, or 10 months after the original request. The husband appealed and the appeals court concluded that the husband was entitled to a greater reduction. The problem with the trial judge’s order was the retroactive date. In general, the legal rule in Florida is that the courts should make a modification retroactive to the date that the requesting party asked for it, as long as “if the reasons justifying modification existed at the time” that the original request was made.
In this husband’s case, the reason justifying his modification request was the loss of his job, which happened around the time of his original motion. That meant that the reason for reduction existed going back to January 2016 and, based on that evidence, Florida law required that the husband receive a modification order that was retroactive to January 2016, not November 2016.
Whether you are contesting alimony, child support, property division or something else, the South Florida family law attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have the tools to help. Our attorneys have been providing divorcing spouses with the effective representation they need to get helpful results. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
How to Go About Seeking a Modification Order in Florida Increasing the Amount of Alimony You’re Receiving, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 26, 2018
Retirement, Changes in Income and Modification of Alimony in Florida, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Dec. 14, 2017